Google has unveiled the new ‘Look and Talk’ feature for its Nest Hub Max. Like most virtual assistants, Google’s has up to now required you to activate it with a wake phrase (“Hey, Google” or “OK Google”). That triggers the software to start listening to what you say.
But what if you’re a really, really busy person and saying those two words is an unacceptable use of your valuable time? That’s where Look and Talk comes in. Just look at the Nest Hub Max and you can give it instructions without the wasted effort of those wake words. Your life will never be the same!
Sarcasm aside, this feature is certainly pretty impressive from a technical standpoint. The software needs to do a lot of work to not only recognise your face but determine if you’re actually looking at the Nest Hub Max or simply gazing in its rough direction whilst talking to someone else. Making that work is quite an achievement.
But do we really need it?
And, of course, there’s a big privacy issue here: for this to work, the camera needs to be always on. For that reason, all the relevant facial analysis takes place on your Nest Hub Max itself, not in the cloud. That probably makes it unlikely that we’ll see the feature rolled out to lower end devices. And you’ll have to opt-in to use Look and Talk as well as enable Voice Match and Face Match.
Even so, I find this a little… creepy. We’re already becoming acclimatised to ‘always on’ microphones listening to us, now we have the prospect of ‘always on’ cameras watching us. Yes, this implementation appears to tick the privacy boxes. But will it help clear the way for something far nastier – not neccessarily from Google – further down the line?
(Note that this feature requires a camera so it works with the Nest Hub Max not the cameraless Nest Hub)